Culinary Arts Schools, Degrees and Colleges - Culinary Arts Careers

Culinary Arts Schools

The culinary arts industry is expansive and competitive, offering trained professionals an opportunity to pursue a variety of careers paths in settings ranging from restaurants to cruise ships, 4-star resorts to wineries. Fueled by the popularity of Food Network and celebrity chef culture, culinary arts schools have become an increasingly popular option for individuals who want to join the industry. According to Jeff Levine of the Culinary Institute of America, one CIA campus has seen a 55 percent enrollment jump since Food Network debuted on television.

Culinary arts training and degrees

No individual avenue exists to becoming a chef, standing on the line, or managing the kitchen at a resort. However, most culinary professionals have attended some form of culinary arts school or have received professional training. The three most common paths include:

  • Attending culinary school
  • Completing a professional program at a community college
  • On-the-job training

Culinary school

Culinary school is designed for students who have a passion for food. Although culinary programs vary in curriculum and length, they do introduce students to the basic knowledge required to work in the industry. Depending on the institution, programs can be completed in as little as seven months (intensive programs) to four or more years (bachelor's programs). Curriculum is typically grouped by subject into a series of multi-class courses, such as the following:

  • Culinary foundations
  • Soups and sauces
  • Pastry and baking
  • Meats and poultry

After completing the required number of contact classroom hours, students finish their education with an externship that complements classroom learning with real-world experience at a restaurant or other culinary environments.

Community-level programs

Instead of attending a formal training program at a culinary school or institute, students may choose to complete their education at a community college. Traditionally, these programs are less expensive and more readily available than those at culinary schools. Students may opt for shorter certificate programs or choose to enroll in a broader field of study by earning an associate degree. Unlike culinary schools that partner with employers to generate meaningful job placement opportunities for graduates, community colleges may not do the same. Additionally, it's important to remember that employers may prefer a candidate who has attending a culinary institute or has years of professional experience.

Apprenticeships and on-the-job training

Bypassing culinary school is another option for aspiring chefs, providing them with an alternative type of culinary education. It can be risky and challenging, but allows for on-the-job development of technical skills in real-world setting. It's also a chance to get a foot in the door at a leading restaurant. Formal apprenticeships are one way for chefs to gain the skills they need in the kitchen, but they are somewhat rare in the United States.

The largest program in the US is offered by the American Culinary Federation (ACF), which includes different types of apprenticeship options:

  • 1,000 hours (six months)
  • 4,000 hours (two years)
  • 6,000 hours (three years)

Culinary certifications

Beyond formal training or on-the-job experience, culinary professionals can also pursue certifications. Certifications are not only a way of enhancing professional skills, but to separate oneself on the job market. Programs are available across the spectrum of career avenues in the culinary industry, including chef, pastry chef and baker, and foodservice manager. Professional organizations such as the American Culinary Federation, Culinary Institute of America, ServSafe, and the National Restaurant Association sponsor certification programs.

Typically, candidates must meet educational and professional requirements prior to qualifying to take a written and/or practical examination of practical skills and knowledge. The table below outlines example culinary certifications available:

Certification Name

Certifying Organization

ProChef Certification (Levels I, II, or III)

Culinary Institute of America

Certified Food Associate

International Food Service Executives Association

Certified Food Manager

International Food Service Executives Association

Certified Food Executive

International Food Service Executives Association

Certified Wine Professional

Culinary Institute of America

Certified Specialist of Wine

Society of Wine Educators

Certified Culinarian

American Culinary Federation

Certified Sous Chef

American Culinary Federation

Certified Chef de Cuisine

American Culinary Federation

Certified Executive Chef

American Culinary Federation

Certified Master Chef

American Culinary Federation

Certified Professional in Catering and Events

National Association for Catering and Events

Certified Food and Beverage Executive

American Hotel and Lodging Educational Institute

Manage First Professional

National Restaurant Association

Foodservice Management Professional


Certified Pastry Culinarian

American Culinary Federation

Certified Executive Pastry Chef

American Culinary Federation

Certified Working Pastry Chef

American Culinary Federation

Certified Master Pastry Chef

American Culinary Federation

Culinary career outlook

The food service industry employs more than 11 million people nationally, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. An increasingly diverse industry, graduates of culinary schools can pursue career paths in different business areas, such as tourism, restaurants and hospitality. However, employment data form the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals tepid projections for three of the biggest culinary career fields: chefs, bakers and food service managers. The table below includes career details for those occupations:

CareerTotal EmploymentAnnual Mean WageProjected Job Growth Rate
Chefs and Head Cooks128,19056,31011.1
Cooks, Restaurant1,401,89028,70021.9
First-Line Supervisors of Food Preparation and Serving Workers1,011,10036,96010.8
2019 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2018-28 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics,

In the end, what culinary arts schools provide is a chance to transition to a variety of careers in a practical, pragmatic manner -- learning the basics of the trade and preparing for the challenges of a dynamic profession.


  • American Culinary Federation, Apprenticeships,
  • American Culinary Federation, Certifications,
  • American Hotel & Lodging Educational Institute,
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, Foodservice Industry,
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook,
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook,
  • Culinary Institute of America, Academics,
  • Culinary Institutes of America, ProChef,
  •, Culinary School: The Pros and Cons of Culinary Education,
  • International Foodservice Executives Association, Certifications,
  • ManageFirst, FMP Credential,
  • National Restaurant Association, 2015 Restaurant Industry Pocket Factbook,
  • Society of Wine Educators, Certification,
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